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Tilleigh Nazor-Comer, 8, center, jumps in the Tennessee River with Scout Chapin, 9, at left, and Bec Fitzsimmons, 8, to compete in the RiverRocks 1/2-mile Snail Darter Sprint.
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Karen Nazor-Hill

It was a big weekend for my family recently when we all pitched in to help my daughter, Karah, execute what has become one of the top open-water swimming events in America — Swim the Suck.

It's a 10-mile course, now part of RiverRocks, that takes swimmers from all over the world through the beautiful Tennessee River Gorge, including the once-infamous portion of the river called "The Suck." Before completion of the Chickamauga Dam in the late 1930s, the river was wild and treacherous, and "the Suck" was located in a spot where rapids and currents were particularly strong and dangerous.

My family has a rich history — some good, some bad — in the gorge. My ancestors were some of the first to settle along the river on both sides. It's our history, and the gorge has special meaning to my family. The river is part of who we are.

So it means a lot to me to see that the river is a big part of my daughter's life, generations after my McNabb ancestors settled there (with some still living there).

My mother, Evelyn Lancaster, born in 1929, grew up swimming in the river. She was involved in Swim the Suck prior to her death last year.

The event, which includes about 100 swimmers from as far away as Germany, and 100 kayakers, introduces our beautiful landscape and river to people who've never visited Chattanooga. Many of the swimmers are repeat competitors. Thanks to Philip Grymes and his staff at Outdoor Chattanooga, as well as dozens of volunteers, the annual event is routinely a huge success.

Some of the swimmers also participate in the Snail Darter Sprint, held just a few days before Swim the Suck. The sprint is a one-mile swim from the Girls Preparatory School dock to Ross's Landing. Karah founded the swim, which now is part of RiverRocks. She named the event after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from the 1970s that protected the snail darter fish in Tennessee and upheld the constitutionality of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. My husband, attorney Hank Hill, filed the lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority that led to the Supreme Court's ruling.

This year, for the first time, there is a kids' 1/2-mile swim in the Snail Darter Sprint. Three children, ages 8 and 9, completed the swim — my granddaughter, Tilleigh, 8; Scout Chapin, 9, and Bec Fitzsimmons, 8. Bec's big brother, Finn, 12, competed in the one-mile swim.

For swimming families, it's not unusual to see our young swimmers jumping in rivers, creeks and lakes, whether it's to swim, kayak, ski, paddleboard, etc. But there's also something swimming families know — you can't make a child enjoying competition swimming if the child doesn't want to.

Every swimming family introduces their children to water at an early age, particularly for safety reasons. If you're going to be around the water, you've got to know how to swim. Hands down. But forcing a kid to jump in the water to participate in a swim meet or jump in murky water to swim across a river just doesn't work.

Tilleigh has been on a swim team since she was 5. My other grandchildren, Evie, 5, joined the swim team last summer, and William, 3, loves water, too. Still, swimming is not Tilleigh's passion; presently, it's acting. She's been in at least six plays in the last few years.

But she loves the water and she loves to swim recreationally. So when it was her idea to participate in the 1/2-mile Snail Darter Sprint, we were surprised and extremely proud. Believe me, swimming a half-mile in a river with a strong current takes muscle and talent. These three kids who jumped in are nothing less than amazing. They were, of course, accompanied by kayakers alongside them.

One of these days, I'll hopefully be standing alongside the river bank cheering on the swimmers in Swim the Suck that will include at least one, possibly all, of my grandchildren.

Yes, I have seen snakes in the river. So have the kids.

Yes, I've seen huge fish in the river. So have the kids.

But swimming is in our blood.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

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